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Sangamo tries to use engineered zinc finger transcriptional repressors to cure Huntington’s disease

Sangamo tries to use engineered zinc finger transcriptional repressors to cure Huntington’s disease | Amazing Science |
At the root of Huntington’s disease is a specific type of mutation, called a trinucleotide repeat expansion, in the Huntingtin (Htt) gene. The normal Htt gene contains up to 28 copies of the nucleotide sequence CAG, but this expands to more than 40 copies in the disease-causing allele. As a result of the expanded repeat, insoluble clumps of the Huntingtin protein accumulate inside neurons, causing cell death that leads to uncontrollable movements, dementia and, ultimately, death. Patients with between 28 and 35 repeats are unaffected, while those with between 36 and 40 have a form of the disease with reduced penetrance.


In animal models, reducing mutant Htt protein levels prevents disease progression and reverses some symptoms. However, most therapeutic approaches in development lower both versions of the huntingtin protein (the one produced by the normal gene, and the one made by the mutated gene). This has raised concerns about their safety for human use, because the normal protein has important, albeit as yet unknown, cellular function. To overcome this, Sangamo researchers have developed zinc finger transcriptional repressors that specifically target the mutant Htt allele and block its expression while preserving near-normal expression levels of the normal allele. Zinc fingers are naturally occurring protein segments that recognize and bind to specific DNA sequences, typically regulating the output of a given gene. Using genetic engineering, the Sangamo researchers designed zinc finger proteins containing a DNA-binding site that recognizes the prolonged tricnucleotide repeat found in the mutant Htt gene. They then fused this binding site to a protein domain that recruits other molecules that zip closed the chromosomal region containing the Htt gene with the expanded repeat—thus hindering production of mutated huntingtin protein.


In a recent experiment in a lab dish, the group added the engineered zinc fingers to fibroblast cells obtained from six people with Huntington’s disease. This lowered production of the mutant protein by more than 90%, while reducing the amount of the normal protein by just 10% or less, the researchers reported at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, held here this week. “There was very potent discrimination between the mutant and normal alleles in cells from all six patients, even though each contained mutant alleles of different lengths,” explains Phillip Gregory*, chief scientific officer at Sangamo BioSciences. “The next step is to make that sure they operate at a broad range of doses, and then we need to move into animal studies of efficacy and safety.”


This is the first attempt to apply the zinc finger approach to Huntington’s disease, and the researchers eventually aim to deliver genes for the zinc finger proteins directly into the brain using adeno-associated viral vectors*, which are already being used to successfully deliver therapeutic genes into the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease in clinical trials.


“This is very promising and exciting work,” says Sarah Tabrizi, a professor at the Institute of Neurology in London, who was not involved in the study, “but it’s still at a very early and exploratory stage, and it’s a big jump going from cells in culture to the human brain.” One challenge is that targeting viral vectors to specified brain areas and then ensuring their proper distribution is difficult, and this is further complicated by the fact that Huntington’s disease begins in deep brain structures before spreading to the cerebral cortex. “Distributing the vector will be a challenge,” Tabrizi says, “but I don’t think it’s insurmountable.”


Read more about ZFN and TALENs ("Editing the genome, here, there and everywhere"):

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Unlimited, at-home coronavirus testing for your organization

Unlimited, at-home coronavirus testing for your organization | Amazing Science |



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Sun is becoming active again and monster sunspot AR2786 swings into view

Sun is becoming active again and monster sunspot AR2786 swings into view | Amazing Science |
The sun is becoming active again as it enters Solar Cycle 25, and scientists' predictions of sunspots have been proven with photos from amateur astronomers around the world. Giant sunspot AR2786 can be viewed with proper filters and may create strong flares that reach Earth.


The sun is becoming active again as it enters Solar Cycle 25, and scientists’ predictions of sunspots have been proven with photos from amateur astronomers around the world. Giant sunspot AR2786 can be viewed with proper filters and may create strong flares that reach Earth.


After a long stretch of quiet on the sun, solar activity has restarted in earnest. Now, with the beginning of Solar Cycle 25, astrophotographers are capturing clusters of spots as they rotate to face Earth. The photographers had advance warning that the solar storms were on the way and were prepared to capture the dark sunspots. On November 18, 2020, scientists at the National Solar Observatory (NSO) – whose headquarters are in Boulder, Colorado – predicted a large new sunspot group would emerge in time for Thanksgiving in the U.S. The largest spot on the sun above, AR2786, confirms the scientists’ predictions.


How did the NSO scientists know this spot would appear? Their prediction came via a technique developed at NSO in the 1990s, known as helioseismology. It’s a way of “listening” to changing sound waves from the sun’s interior. These scientists’ statement explained: "Seismology here on Earth measures sound waves traveling through Earth’s interior to reveal what we cannot see beneath the Earth’s surface. Similarly, helioseismology can highlight structures on the sun that cannot yet be seen from Earth. Millions of sound frequencies bounce freely throughout the sun’s interior, like a bell. Regions of strong magnetic fields perturb with these sound waves, thus a change in wave signal measurements indicates that sunspots may be present.


Radu Anghel in Bacau, Romania, caught AR2786 on November 24, 2020. He wrote: “It’s been a long time with no sunspot activity and now is comeback time. With the new sun cycle, we have an increased sunspot activity including, today, no less the three active regions: 2783, 2785 and 2786. The last one is a giant sunspot, several times bigger than Earth.”


As seen from around the world, giant sunspot AR2786 will come into even better view in the days ahead, as the sun spins. It’ll be possible to glimpse with optical aid, using safe solar filters, or by using an indirect viewing method. Here are 7 tips for observing the sun safely.


Kiran Jain, the scientist who is leading the efforts at NSO to predict coming sunspots via helioseismology, said that the large sunspot AR2786 produced: "… the strongest far-side signal we have had this solar cycle. We first noticed the signal in our far-side images on November 14, 2020. It was inconspicuous at first but grew quickly, breaking detection thresholds just one day later. Since we are in the very early phase of the new solar cycle, the signal from this large spot stands out clearly."

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Godzilla from below — the first video of a parasitic wasp attacking a caterpillar host underwater

Godzilla from below — the first video of a parasitic wasp attacking a caterpillar host underwater | Amazing Science |

Named after fictional monster Godzilla, a parasitic wasp becomes the first observed and filmed to dive underwater for several seconds, in order to attack and pull out caterpillar hosts, so that it can lay its eggs inside them before releasing them back in the water.


A very few species of parasitoid wasps can be considered aquatic. Less than 0.1% of the species we know today have been found to enter the water, while searching for potential hosts or living as endoparasitoids inside of aquatic hosts during their larval stage. Within the subfamily Microgastrinae (family Braconidae), only two species have previously been recorded to be aquatic, based on their parasitism of aquatic caterpillars of moths. However, none has been known to actually dive in the water.


Recently, during their research work in Japan, Dr. Jose Fernandez-Triana of the Canadian National Collection of Insects and his team found and recorded on camera the first microgastrine parasitoid wasp that dives underwater for several seconds, in order to attack and pull out caterpillar hosts, so that it can lay its eggs inside them before releasing them back in the water.


Interestingly, the wasp, which was described as a new to science species in the open-access, peer-reviewed scientific Journal of Hymenoptera Research, was given the awe-striking name Microgaster godzilla, because its emergence out of the water reminded the scientists of the Japanese iconic fictional monster Godzilla.


In the video, the female wasp can be seen walking over floating plants as it searches for hosts, specifically larvae of the moth species Elophila turbata, which constructs a portable case from fragments of aquatic plants and lives inside it near the water surface. Once the wasp finds one of those cases, it first probes it repeatedly with its antennae, while moving around. Eventually, it forces the larvae to come out of the case and parasitizes it by quickly inserting its ovipositor. In some cases, the wasp has to submerge completely underwater for several seconds, in order to find and pull the caterpillar out of its case. To do this, the species has evolved enlarged and strongly curved tarsal claws, which are thought to be used to grip the substrate as it enters the water and looks for hosts.


As for the curious choice of name for the new species, Dr. Jose Fernandez-Triana explains: "The reasons why we decided to use the name of Godzilla for the wasp species are interesting. First, being a Japanese species, it respectfully honors Godzilla, a fictional monster (kaiju) that became an icon after the 1954 Japanese film of the same name and many remakes afterwards. It has become one of the most recognizable symbols of Japanese popular culture worldwide. Second, the wasp's parasitization behavior bears some loose resemblance to the kaiju character, in the sense that the wasp suddenly emerges from the water to parasitize the host, similar to how Godzilla suddenly emerges from the water in the movies. Third, Godzilla has sometimes been associated, albeit in different ways, with Mothra, another kaiju that is typically portrayed as a larva (caterpillar) or an adult moth. As you can see, we had biological, behavioral and cultural reasons to justify our choice of a name. Of course, that and having a bit of fun, because that is also an important part of life and science!"

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Mysterious Monolith Discovered in the Utah Desert by Biologists

Mysterious Monolith Discovered in the Utah Desert by Biologists | Amazing Science |
A mysterious object resembling the freestanding plank sculptures of the late Minimalist artist John McCracken—or the alien-built monoliths in Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey—has been discovered in a remote area of the Utah desert, prompting theories ranging from extraterrestrial visitation to avant-garde installation.

Biologists of the Utah Division of Wildlife spotted the monolith from a helicopter while conducting a routine count of bighorn sheep in the area. The location of the monolith has not been disclosed, but aerial footage showing the object installed within a red rock canyon suggests that it lives somewhere in southern Utah, which has a distinct topological landscape.

According to Bret Hutchings, the pilot of the helicopter, the monolith, which appears to be made from steel or metal, is between 10 and 12 ft tall and was likely installed on the site rather than dropped from above by celestial visitors. “I’m assuming it’s some new wave artist or something or, you know, somebody that was a big 2001: A Space Odyssey fan,” Hutchings told KSL news.

No artist has come forth to claim credit for the monolith yet, and David Zwirner, which represents McCracken, did not respond to a request for comment at the time of this writing. There is no known record of the artist's work installed in the Utah desert, although McCracken did live in-between nearby northern New Mexico and New York until his death in 2011.

The wilderness of the Southwestern US has a rich and storied history of Land Art and especially for works that retain their magic and mystery by being largely inaccessible or challenging to locate, from Robert Smithson’s 1970 magnum opus Spiral Jetty in the Great Salt Lake to Michael Heizer’s 1969 Double Negative near the Utah border in Nevada.
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Mutant Zebrafish Reveals Evolutionary History of Spinal Defects

Mutant Zebrafish Reveals Evolutionary History of Spinal Defects | Amazing Science |

A chance mutation that led to spinal defects in a zebrafish has opened a little window into our own fishy past. Rising fifth-year Duke graduate student Brianna Peskin, who started the project during her first-year rotation in Michel Bagnat's cell biology lab and "kinda kept coming back to it," was merely trying to figure out why this one mutation led to developmental issues in a zebrafish's spine.


What she found is that embryos of the mutant fish have a single-letter change in their DNA that alters the way they build the bones and other structures that make up their spine, leaving them with a shorter body and a tortured looking spine that contains clefts dividing their vertebrae in half.


The mutant fish are named spondo, short for spondylos which is Greek for spine, and also a reference to dispondyly, a condition where each vertebra has two bony arches not one. But that's not the end of the story. When Bagnat's research colleague Matthew Harris of Harvard Medical School showed some pictures of the mutant fish spine to a colleague in fish paleontology, Gloria Arratia at the University of Kansas, she immediately spotted that the mutants look a lot like fossil specimens of ancestral fish whose style of spine has gone out of fashion in most living fishes.


"And then they both got really excited because they were noticing these similarities between ancestral fossil specimens and our mutant," Peskin said. The tiny mutation showed that both recipes for spine development are still to be found in the fish genome.


In the bony fish, known as teleosts, building the spine relies on a tube-like structure running the length of the developing embryo called the notochord. The notochord sets up the patterns that lead to articulated bones and cartilage in the developing spine by sending chemical signals that attract different molecules and cell types to different regions -- bone parts here, cartilage parts there.


Human embryos start with a notochord too, but it doesn't pattern the bony vertebrae the way it does in teleosts; it ends up building the cartilage pucks between the bones, the intervertebral discs. The gene that is mutated in spondo fish is unique to teleosts and the mutant fish's notochord doesn't set up the patterning the way it does in other fish. Rather, its patterning reverts to an ancestral form. So, this tiny difference in DNA may be where land animals like us parted company with our fish ancestors a very, very, very long time ago.


While the zebrafish (Danio rerio) has become a laboratory workhorse for all sorts of interesting studies, its usefulness as a model of human spine development has been in doubt because they grow their backbones differently. But not anymore. The research team's new paper, which appears July 20, 2020, in Current Biology, shows that the difference between the way teleosts and land animals grow their spines comes down to signaling from the notochord, which was revealed by this single-letter change in the DNA. And that, in turn, gives them the insight to study human spinal defects with these fast-growing, translucent fish, because the spondo mutants are sensitive to factors known to cause congenital scoliosis in human children, a curvature of the spine.


"This work not only gave us a glimpse into spine evolution, but also made us understand how the spine is put together in mammals," said Bagnat, who is an associate professor of Cell Biology in the Duke School of Medicine. "Moving forward, we'll be able to use mutations like spondo to unravel the complex genetics of scoliosis and other spine defects that are rooted in the biology of the notochord and have been intractable to this day."

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Search for effective therapies: Venom alkaloids against the Chagas disease parasite

Search for effective therapies: Venom alkaloids against the Chagas disease parasite | Amazing Science |

Chagas disease is an important disease affecting millions of people in the New World and is caused by a protozoan transmitted by hematophagous kissing bugs. It can be treated with drugs during the early acute phase. However, effective therapy against the chronic form of Chagas disease has yet to be discovered and developed.


A research team now tested the activity of solenopsin alkaloids extracted from two species of fire ants against the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, the etiologic agent of Chagas disease. Although IC50 determinations showed that solenopsins are more toxic to the parasite than benznidazole, the drug of choice for Chagas disease treatment, the ant alkaloids presented a lower selectivity index. As a result of exposure to the alkaloids, the parasites became swollen and rounded in shape, with hypertrophied contractile vacuoles and intense cytoplasmic vacuolization, possibly resulting in osmotic stress. No accumulation of multiple kinetoplasts and/or nuclei was detected.


Overexpressing phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3 Kinase) — an enzyme essential for osmoregulation that is a known target of solenopsins in mammalian cells — did not prevent swelling and vacuolization, nor did it counteract the toxic effects of alkaloids on the parasites. Additional experimental results suggested that solenopsins induced a type of autophagic and programmed cell death in T. cruzi. Solenopsins also reduced the intracellular proliferation of T. cruzi amastigotes in infected macrophages in a concentration-dependent manner and demonstrated activity against Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense bloodstream forms, which is another important etiological kinetoplastid parasite.


These results suggest the potential of solenopsins as novel natural drugs against neglected parasitic diseases caused by kinetoplastids.

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Immunity to COVID-19 may persist six months or possibly more

Immunity to COVID-19 may persist six months or possibly more | Amazing Science |
Even after recovery, the body continues to improve its antibody response to the coronavirus — perhaps thanks to viral bits hiding in the intestine.


As coronavirus cases in the United States and around the world rise, scientists are uncovering hints that immunity for those who have had COVID-19 can last at least six months, if not longer.

After people with COVID-19 have largely recovered, immune proteins called antibodies are still detectable six months later.


What’s more, the proteins have sharpened their skills at fighting the coronavirus, researchers report in a preliminary study posted November 5 at Leftover pieces of the virus remaining in the gut after symptoms have disappeared may help the immune system work to refine that response. The finding also bodes well for how long a vaccination might provide protection. Immunity from a vaccine is expected to last as long or longer than natural immunity.


Antibodies, which are immune proteins that bind to microbes to fight off an infection, are part of the body’s cache of immune defenses. People typically make a wide variety of antibodies during an infection. These proteins can recognize different surfaces on viruses — like a Swiss Army knife able to work on various parts of the virus — and evolve over time to better recognize their target (SN: 4/28/20).


Six months after an infection with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, called SARS-CoV-2, people appear to have built an arsenal of antibodies that are not only more potent than the ones developed early on, similar to what has been seen in other infections. Those antibodies can also recognize mutated versions of the virus, researchers found. In addition to antibody upgrades, long-lasting immune cells that make antibodies, called memory B cells, stick around in the blood, poised to launch a rapid response should people be exposed to the virus again. “The main message is that the immune response persists,” says Julio Lorenzi, a viral immunologist at the Rockefeller University in New York City. “We see these B cells surviving over time and the antibodies six months after infection are even better than the beginning of the infection.”


In the study, Lorenzi and colleagues analyzed the antibodies that 87 people made against the coronavirus at one and six months after developing symptoms. Although antibody levels in the blood waned, the immune proteins were still detectable after six months. Importantly, levels of memory B cells were stable, an assessment of 21 of the 87 participants showed — a sign that those cells may remain in the body for a while.


Other studies have hinted that B cells can persist for more than six months in recovered COVID-19 patients. Preliminary results of one study uncovered that memory B cells — as well as other cells involved in immune memory known as T cells — decline slowly in the blood, researchers reported November 16 at That slow decrease could mean that immunity might last for years, at least in some people (SN: 10/19/20).    

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None of the current SARS-CoV-2 mutations seem to increase transmissibility of the virus

None of the current SARS-CoV-2 mutations seem to increase transmissibility of the virus | Amazing Science |

None of the mutations currently documented in the SARS-CoV-2 virus appear to increase its transmissibility in humans, according to a study led by UCL researchers. The analysis of virus genomes from over 46,000 people with COVID-19 from 99 countries is published today in Nature Communications.


First and corresponding author Dr Lucy van Dorp (UCL Genetics Institute) said: “The number of SARS-CoV-2 genomes being generated for scientific research is staggering. We realised early on in the pandemic that we needed new approaches to analyse enormous amounts of data in close to real time to flag new mutations in the virus that could affect its transmission or symptom severity. “Fortunately, we found that none of these mutations are making COVID-19 spread more rapidly, but we need to remain vigilant and continue monitoring new mutations, particularly as vaccines get rolled out.”


Coronaviruses like SARS-CoV-2 are a type of RNA virus, which can all develop mutations in three different ways: by mistake from copying errors during viral replication, through interactions with other viruses infecting the same cell (recombination or reassortment), or they can be induced by host RNA modification systems which are part of host immunity. Most mutations are neutral, while others can be advantageous or detrimental to the virus. Both neutral and advantageous mutations can become more common as they get passed down to descendant viruses.


The research team from UCL, Cirad and the Université de la Réunion, and the University of Oxford, analyzed a global dataset of virus genomes from 46,723 people with COVID-19, collected up until the end of July 2020. The researchers have so far identified 12,706 mutations in SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19. For 398 of the mutations, there is strong evidence that they have occurred repeatedly and independently. Of those, the researchers honed in on 185 mutations which have occurred at least three times independently during the course of the pandemic.


To test if the mutations increase transmission of the virus, the researchers modeled the virus’s evolutionary tree, and analyzed whether a particular mutation was becoming increasingly common within a given branch of the evolutionary tree – that is, testing whether, after a mutation first develops in a virus, descendants of that virus outperform closely-related SARS-CoV-2 viruses without that particular mutation. The researchers found no evidence that any of the common mutations are increasing the virus’s transmissibility. Instead, they found most common mutations are neutral for the virus. This includes one mutation in the virus spike protein called D614G, which has been widely reported as being a common mutation that may make the virus more transmissible. The new evidence finds that this mutation is in fact not associated with significantly increasing transmission.

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Dolphins can consciously slow down their heart beat to avoid "the bends"

Dolphins can consciously slow down their heart beat to avoid "the bends" | Amazing Science |
Dolphins actively slow down their hearts before diving, and can even adjust their heart rate depending on how long they plan to dive for, a new study suggests. Published in Frontiers in Physiology, the findings provide new insights into how marine mammals conserve oxygen and adjust to pressure while diving.

The authors worked with three male bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), specially trained to hold their breath for different lengths of time upon instruction. "We trained the dolphins for a long breath-hold, a short one, and one where they could do whatever they want", explains Dr Andreas Fahlman of Fundación Oceanogràfic, Valencia, Spain. "When asked to hold their breath, their heart rates lowered before or immediately as they began the breath-hold. We also observed that the dolphins reduced their heart rates faster and further when preparing for the long breath-hold, compared to the other holds".

The results reveal that dolphins, and possibly other marine mammals, may consciously alter their heart rate to suit the length of their planned dive. "Dolphins have the capacity to vary their reduction in heart rate as much as you and I are able to reduce how fast we breathe", suggests Fahlman. "This allows them to conserve oxygen during their dives, and may also be key to avoiding diving-related problems such as decompression sickness, known as "the bends"".

Understanding how marine mammals are able to dive safely for long periods of time is crucial to mitigate the health impacts of man-made sound disturbance on marine mammals. "Man-made sounds, such as underwater blasts during oil exploration, are linked to problems such as "the bends" in these animals", continues Fahlman. "If this ability to regulate heart rate is important to avoid decompression sickness, and sudden exposure to an unusual sound causes this mechanism to fail, we should avoid sudden loud disturbances and instead slowly increase the noise level over time to cause minimal stress. In other words, our research may provide very simple mitigation methods to allow humans and animals to safely share the ocean".

The practical challenges of measuring a dolphin's physiological functions, such as heart rate and breathing, have previously prevented scientists from fully understanding changes in their physiology during diving. "We worked with a small sample size of three trained male dolphins housed in professional care", Fahlman explains. "We used custom-made equipment to measure the lung function of the animals, and attached electrocardiogram (ECG) sensors to measure their heart rates".
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Coronavirus Antibodies Good — Machine-Made Molecules Better

Coronavirus Antibodies Good — Machine-Made Molecules Better | Amazing Science |
With help from computer algorithms, researchers designed proteins from scratch that can trounce the coronavirus in lab animals.


The coronavirus might be new, but nature long ago gave humans the tools to recognize it, at least on a microscopic scale: antibodies, Y-shaped immune proteins that can latch onto pathogens and block them from infiltrating cells.


Millions of years of evolution have honed these proteins into the disease-fighting weapons they are today. But in a span of just months, a combination of human and machine intelligence may have beaten Mother Nature at her own game.


Using computational tools, a team of researchers at the University of Washington designed and built from scratch a molecule that, when pitted against the coronavirus in the lab, can attack and sequester it at least as well as an antibody does. When spritzed up the noses of mice and hamsters, it also appears to protect animals from becoming seriously sick.


This molecule, called a mini-binder for its ability to glom onto the coronavirus, is petite and stable enough to be shipped en masse in a freeze-dried state. Bacteria can also be engineered to churn out these mini-binders, potentially making them not only effective but also cheap and convenient.


The team’s product is still in the very early stages of development, and will not be on the market any time soon. But so far “it’s looking very promising,” said Lauren Carter, one of the researchers behind the project, which is led by the biochemist David Baker. Eventually, healthy people might be able to self-administer the mini-binders as a nasal spray, and potentially keep any inbound coronavirus particles at bay. “The most elegant application could be something you keep on your bedside table,” Ms. Carter said. “That’s kind of the dream.”

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Researchers make most precise measurements of deuterium fusing with a proton to form helium-3

Researchers make most precise measurements of deuterium fusing with a proton to form helium-3 | Amazing Science |

A large team of researchers affiliated with a host of institutions in Italy, the U.K and Hungary has carried out the most precise measurements yet of deuterium fusing with a proton to form helium-3. In their paper published in the journal Nature, the group describes their effort and how they believe it will contribute to better understanding the events that transpired during the first few minutes after the Big Bang.


Astrophysics theory suggests that the creation of deuterium was one of the first things that happened after the Big Bang. Therefore, it plays an important role in Big Bang nucleosynthesis—the reactions that happened afterward that led to the production of several of the light elements. Theorists have developed equations that show the likely series of events that occurred, but to date, it has been difficult to prove them correct without physical evidence.


In this new effort, the researchers working at the Laboratory for Underground Nuclear Astrophysics in Italy have carried out experiments to simulate those first few minutes, hoping to confirm the theories. The work was conducted deep under the thick rock cover of the Gran Sasso mountain to prevent interference from cosmic rays—it involved firing a beam of protons at a deuterium target—deuterium being a form of hydrogen with just one proton and one neutron—and then measuring the rate of fusion. But because the rate of fusion is so low, the bombardment had to be carried out many times—the team carried out their work nearly every weekend for three years.


The hope was that the measured rate would match the amount of cosmic microwave background radiation detected by scientists who have been studying it for many years. Researchers believe such radiation came into existence as the cosmos cooled approximately 380,000 years after the Big Bang.


The researchers found that the measured rate of deuterium fusing across a range of temperatures fell between the rate predicted by the latest theories and tentative measurements taken back in 1997, the last time scientists tried to measure the rate of deuterium fusing with a proton to form helium-3. But most importantly, when they plugged the rate they measured into models that projected Big Bang nucleosynthesis density estimates, it closely matched estimated measurements of the CMB 380,000 years later.

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Research lays groundwork for ultra-thin, energy efficient photodetector on glass

Research lays groundwork for ultra-thin, energy efficient photodetector on glass | Amazing Science |

Though we may not always realize it, photodetectors contribute greatly to the convenience of modern life. Also known as photosensors, photodetectors convert light energy into electrical signals to complete tasks such as opening automatic sliding doors and automatically adjusting a cell phone's screen brightness in different lighting conditions.


A new paper, published by a team of Penn State researchers in ACS Nano, seeks to further advance photodetectors' use by integrating the technology with durable Gorilla glass, the material used for smart phone screens that is manufactured by Corning Incorporated.


The integration of photodetectors with Gorilla glass could lead to the commercial development of "smart glass," or glass equipped with automatic sensing properties. Smart glass has a number of applications ranging from imaging to advanced robotics, according to the researchers.


"There are two problems to address when attempting to manufacture and scale photodetectors on glass," said principal investigator Saptarshi Das, assistant professor of engineering science and mechanics (ESM).?"It must be done using relatively low temperatures, as the glass degrades at high temperatures, and must ensure the photodetector can operate on glass using minimal energy."


To overcome the first challenge, Das, along with ESM doctoral student Joseph R. Nasr, determined that the chemical compound molybdenum disulfide was the best material to use as a coating on the glass. Then, Joshua Robinson, professor of materials science and engineering (MatSE) and MatSE doctoral student Nicholas Simonson used a chemical reactor at 600 degrees Celsius -- a low enough temperature so as not to degrade the Gorilla glass -- to fuse together the compound and glass. The next step was to turn the glass and coating into a photodetector by patterning it using a conventional electron beam lithography tool.


"We then tested the glass using green LED lighting, which mimics a more natural lighting source unlike laser lighting, which is commonly used in similar optoelectronics research," Nasr said.

The ultra-thin body of the molybdenum disulfide photodetectors allows for better electrostatic control, and ensures it can operate with low power -- a critical need for the smart glass technology of the future. "The photodetectors need to work in resource-constrained or inaccessible locations that by nature do not have access to sources of unrestricted electricity," Das said. "Therefore, they need to rely on pre-storing their own energy in the form of wind or solar energy."

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Sensor for smart textiles survives washing machine, cars and hammers

Sensor for smart textiles survives washing machine, cars and hammers | Amazing Science |

Think about your favorite t-shirt, the one you’ve worn a hundred times, and all the abuse you’ve put it through. You’ve washed it more times than you can remember, spilled on it, stretched it, crumbled it up, maybe even singed it leaning over the stove once. 

We put our clothes through a lot and if the smart textiles of the future are going to survive all that we throw at them, their components are going to need to be resilient.  


Now, researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have developed an ultra-sensitive, seriously resilient strain sensor that can be embedded in textiles and soft robotic systems. The research is published in Nature.


Current soft strain gauges are really sensitive but also really fragile,” said Oluwaseun Araromi, a Research Associate in Materials Science and Mechanical Engineering at SEAS and the Wyss Institute and first author of the paper. “The problem is that we’re working in an oxymoronic paradigm — highly sensitivity sensors are usually very fragile and very strong sensors aren’t usually very sensitive. So, we needed to find mechanisms that could give us enough of each property.” In the end, the researchers created a design that looks and behaves very much like a Slinky. 


“A Slinky is a solid cylinder of rigid metal but if you pattern it into this spiral shape, it becomes stretchable,” said Araromi. “That is essentially what we did here. We started with a rigid bulk material, in this case carbon fiber, and patterned it in such a way that the material becomes stretchable.”  The pattern is known as a serpentine meander, because its sharp ups and downs resemble the slithering of a snake. The patterned conductive carbon fibers are then sandwiched between two pre-strained elastic substrates. 


The overall electrical conductivity of the sensor changes as the edges of the patterned carbon fiber come out of contact with each other, similar to the way the individual spirals of a slinky come out of contact with each other when you pull both ends. This process happens even with small amounts of strain, which is the key to the sensor’s high sensitivity. Unlike current highly sensitive stretchable sensors, which rely on exotic materials such as silicon or gold nanowires, this sensor doesn’t require special manufacturing techniques or even a clean room. It could be made using any conductive material.


The researchers tested the resiliency of the sensor by stabbing it with a scalpel, hitting it with a hammer, running it over with a car, and throwing it in a washing machine ten times. The sensor emerged from each test unscathed.

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NHS to trial blood test to detect more than 50 forms of cancer

NHS to trial blood test to detect more than 50 forms of cancer | Amazing Science |

The NHS is to trial a simple blood test that may help identify more than 50 forms of cancer years before diagnosis, in what it hailed as a potential “gamechanger”. If successful the blood test, known as Galleri, could revolutionize early diagnosis of cancer and save many lives by identifying symptoms quickly enough for prompt treatment to make the difference between life and death.


The blood test will be offered to 165,000 people in England from mid-2021, the vast majority of whom have no signs of the disease. NHS England hopes the test may prove particularly useful at detecting early signs of cancers that are hard to spot and so have worse survival rates, such as ovarian and pancreatic cancer.


Sir Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, said: “Early detection, particularly for hard to treat conditions like ovarian and pancreatic cancer, has the potential to save many lives. This promising blood test could therefore be a gamechanger in cancer care, helping thousands more people to get successful treatment.”

If the trial finds that the blood test can detect cancers early it will become routinely available later this decade.


The 165,000 people who will be offered the test will be aged between 50 and 79. Of them 140,000 will be symptom free. They will be identified through NHS records, randomly selected and invited to join the trial. Those in the trial will have a blood test every year for three years to check for the presence of malignant growths.


The other 25,000 people will be those identified by their GP as having possible signs of cancer, such as a lump or discharge. They will have to give a blood sample, as well have conventional tests such as a CT or MRI scan, to speed up the diagnosis.


NHS England believes the Galleri tests could lead to people with cancer being diagnosed several years before that would otherwise happen. The tests could also pinpoint where in the body cancer was developing, they said.

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Comprehensive list of available SARS-CoV-2 (CoVID19) diagnostic tests

Comprehensive list of available SARS-CoV-2 (CoVID19) diagnostic tests | Amazing Science |

Comprehensive list of available diagnostic tests, because diagnosis matters.

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AI model detects asymptomatic Covid-19 infections through cellphone-recorded coughs

AI model detects asymptomatic Covid-19 infections through cellphone-recorded coughs | Amazing Science |
An artificial intelligence model can detect people who are asymptomatic with Covid-19, through cellphone-recorded coughs. The work was led by Brian Subirana and colleagues at the MIT Auto-ID Lab.


Asymptomatic people who are infected with Covid-19 exhibit, by definition, no discernible physical symptoms of the disease. They are thus less likely to seek out testing for the virus, and could unknowingly spread the infection to others. But it seems those who are asymptomatic may not be entirely free of changes wrought by the virus. MIT researchers have now found that people who are asymptomatic may differ from healthy individuals in the way that they cough. These differences are not decipherable to the human ear. But it turns out that they can be picked up by artificial intelligence.


In a paper published recently in the IEEE Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology, the team reports on an AI model that distinguishes asymptomatic people from healthy individuals through forced-cough recordings, which people voluntarily submitted through web browsers and devices such as cellphones and laptops. The researchers trained the model on tens of thousands of samples of coughs, as well as spoken words. When they fed the model new cough recordings, it accurately identified 98.5 percent of coughs from people who were confirmed to have Covid-19, including 100 percent of coughs from asymptomatics — who reported they did not have symptoms but had tested positive for the virus.


The team is now working on incorporating the model into a user-friendly app, which if FDA-approved and adopted on a large scale could potentially be a free, convenient, noninvasive prescreening tool to identify people who are likely to be asymptomatic for Covid-19. A user could log in daily, cough into their phone, and instantly get information on whether they might be infected and therefore should confirm with a formal test. “The effective implementation of this group diagnostic tool could diminish the spread of the pandemic if everyone uses it before going to a classroom, a factory, or a restaurant,” says co-author Brian Subirana, a research scientist in MIT’s Auto-ID Laboratory.

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Zebra finches can rapidly memorize the signature sounds of at least 50 different members of their flock

Zebra finches can rapidly memorize the signature sounds of at least 50 different members of their flock | Amazing Science |

If songbirds could appear on "The Masked Singer" reality TV competition, zebra finches would likely steal the show. That's because they can rapidly memorize the signature sounds of at least 50 different members of their flock, according to new research from the University of California, Berkeley.


In recent findings published in the journal Science Advances, these boisterous, red-beaked songbirds, known as zebra finches, have been shown to pick one another out of a crowd (or flock) based on a particular peer's distinct song or contact call. Like humans who can instantly tell which friend or relative is calling by the timbre of the person's voice, zebra finches have a near-human capacity for language mapping. Moreover, they can remember each other's unique vocalizations for months and perhaps longer, the findings suggest.


"The amazing auditory memory of zebra finches shows that birds' brains are highly adapted for sophisticated social communication," said study lead author Frederic Theunissen, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology, integrative biology and neuroscience. Theunissen and fellow researchers sought to gauge the scope and magnitude of zebra finches' ability to identify their feathered peers based purely on their unique sounds. As a result, they found that the birds, which mate for life, performed even better than anticipated.


"For animals, the ability to recognize the source and meaning of a cohort member's call requires complex mapping skills, and this is something zebra finches have clearly mastered," Theunissen said.

A pioneer in the study of bird and human auditory communication for at least two decades, Theunissen acquired a fascination and admiration for the communication skills of zebra finches through his collaboration with UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow Julie Elie, a neuroethologist who has studied zebra finches in the forests of their native Australia. Their teamwork yielded groundbreaking findings about the communication skills of zebra finches.


Zebra finches usually travel around in colonies of 50 to 100 birds, flying apart and then coming back together. Their songs are typically mating calls, while their distance or contact calls are used to identify where they are, or to locate one another. "They have what we call a 'fusion fission' society, where they split up and then come back together," Theunissen said. "They don't want to separate from the flock, and so, if one of them gets lost, they might call out 'Hey, Ted, we're right here.' Or, if one of them is sitting in a nest while the other is foraging, one might call out to ask if it's safe to return to the nest."

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Covid-19 vaccines explained: Here's how they work

Covid-19 vaccines explained: Here's how they work | Amazing Science |

There's good news about coronavirus vaccines. At least three of the experimental vaccines show remarkable efficacy, at least according to information released by the makers in news releases.


Global vaccine giant AstraZeneca reports its vaccine prevented coronavirus infection 62% of the time when people got two doses a month apart. But in a subgroup of volunteers who got a half dose followed by a full dose a month later, the vaccine appeared to be 90% effective. That averages out to 70% efficacy. The vaccines made by Pfizer Inc and biotechnology company Moderna appear to protect against symptomatic infection 95% of the time.


Pfizer's and Moderna's vaccines use very similar technology, while AstraZeneca uses a different approach. They are among six vaccines getting some kind of federal government support in the United States and dozens in development around the world.


CNN provides a look at the technology behind some of the candidates that are the furthest along in development -- mostly in Phase 3 clinical trials, the last step before seeking the go-ahead from the US Food and Drug Administration and other regulators around the world.

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Study Finds that Memories of the Past Retain Remarkable Fidelity Even as We Age

Study Finds that Memories of the Past Retain Remarkable Fidelity Even as We Age | Amazing Science |
Even though people tend to remember fewer details about past events as time goes by, the details they do remember are retained with remarkable fidelity, according to a new study. This finding holds true regardless of the age of the person or the amount of time that elapsed since the event took place.

Scientists studying the complex relationship between aging and memory have found that in a controlled experiment, people can remember the details about past events with a surprising 94% accuracy, even accounting for age. These results, published in the journal Psychological Science, suggest that the stories we tell about past events are accurate, although details tend to fade with time.

“These results are surprising to many, given the general pessimism about memory accuracy among scientists and the prevalent idea that memory for one-time events is not to be trusted,” said Nicholas Diamond, the study’s lead researcher, a former graduate student at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI), and currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania.

“These results will be helpful for understanding memory in healthy aging.”Brian Levine, Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute
About 400 academics, including memory scientists, surveyed as part of this study estimated memory accuracy to be around 40% at best, expecting this score to be even lower for older participants or when greater amounts of time had elapsed since the events.

“This study shows us that memory accuracy is actually quite good under normal circumstances, and it remains stable as we age,” said Brian Levine, a senior scientist at RRI and a professor of psychology and neurology at the University of Toronto and co-author on the study. “These results will be helpful for understanding memory in healthy aging.”
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Researchers create AI algorithm to improve antibiotic UTI treatment

Researchers create AI algorithm to improve antibiotic UTI treatment | Amazing Science |
Using machine learning, researchers have developed a treatment algorithm that could help improve antibiotic prescribing for uncomplicated urinary tract infections (UTIs), according to a study today in Science Translational Medicine.

UTIs are one of most common conditions for which antibiotics are prescribed in the United States, resulting in 4.7 million prescriptions annually. But in more than 40% of cases of uncomplicated UTI, clinicians prescribe fluoroquinolones, which are the second-line therapy according to guidelines from the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA). The first-line antibiotics are the narrow-spectrum nitrofurantoin and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole.

The decision to use broader-spectrum fluoroquinolones is likely related to concerns about rising antibiotic resistance to first-line treatment for UTIs. And in emergency rooms and other outpatient settings where UTIs are diagnosed and patients are sent home with an antibiotic, clinicians may favor empiric treatment with agents like ciprofloxacin or levofloxacin to minimize the risk of first-line therapy failure.

But this is problematic, because fluoroquinolones are associated with adverse events like tendon rupture and peripheral neuropathy, and increased use of fluoroquinolones can increase the risk of Clostridioides difficile infections in patients and promote the emergence of multidrug-resistant organisms.
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Acromyrmex echinatior, a species of leaf-cutter ants is the first known example of an insect with mineralized armor

Acromyrmex echinatior, a species of leaf-cutter ants is the first known example of an insect with mineralized armor | Amazing Science |

A species of leaf-cutter ant is the first known example of an insect with mineralized armor, which shields them during combat.The armor, which is made up of tiny crystals, develops as the ants mature and seems to be produced by the underlying waxy outer coating of the body of mature workers.


Although calcareous anatomical structures have evolved in diverse animal groups, such structures have been unknown in insects. Here, we report the discovery of high-magnesium calcite [CaMg(CO3)2] armor overlaying the exoskeletons of major workers of the leaf-cutter ant Acromyrmex echinatior. Live-rearing and in vitro synthesis experiments indicate that the biomineral layer accumulates rapidly as ant workers mature, that the layer is continuously distributed, covering nearly the entire integument, and that the ant epicuticle catalyzes biomineral nucleation and growth. In situ nano-indentation demonstrates that the biomineral layer significantly hardens the exoskeleton. Increased survival of ant workers with biomineralized exoskeletons during aggressive encounters with other ants and reduced infection by entomopathogenic fungi demonstrate the protective role of the biomineral layer. The discovery of biogenic high-magnesium calcite in the relatively well-studied leaf-cutting ants suggests that calcareous biominerals enriched in magnesium may be more common in metazoans than previously recognized. Biomineral armor is known in a number of diverse creatures but has not previously been observed in insects. Here, the authors report on the discovery and characterization of high-magnesium calcite armor which overlays the exoskeletons of leaf-cutter ants.

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A hint of new physics in polarized cosmic microwave background radiation from the early Universe

A hint of new physics in polarized cosmic microwave background radiation from the early Universe | Amazing Science |

Using Planck data from the cosmic microwave background radiation, an international team of researchers has observed a hint of new physics. The team developed a new method to measure the polarization angle of the ancient light by calibrating it with dust emission from our own Milky Way. While the signal is not detected with enough precision to draw definite conclusions, it may suggest that dark matter or dark energy causes a violation of the so-called “parity symmetry.” 


The laws of physics governing the Universe are thought not to change when flipped around in a mirror. For example, electromagnetism works the same regardless of whether you are in the original system, or in a mirrored system in which all spatial coordinates have been flipped. If this symmetry, called “parity,” is violated, it may hold the key to understanding the elusive nature of dark matter and dark energy, which occupy 25 and 70 percent of the energy budget of the Universe today, respectively. While both dark, these two components have opposite effects on the evolution of the Universe: dark matter attracts, while dark energy causes the Universe to expand ever faster. 


A new study, including researchers from the Institute of Particle and Nuclear Studies (IPNS) at the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK), the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (Kavli IPMU) of the University of Tokyo, and the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics (MPA), reports on a tantalizing hint of new physics—with 99.2 percent confidence level —which violates parity symmetry. Their findings were published in the journal Physical Review Letters on November 23, 2020; the paper was selected as the “Editors’ Suggestion,” judged by editors of the journal to be important, interesting, and well written.


The hint to a violation of parity symmetry was found in the cosmic microwave background radiation, the remnant light of the Big Bang. The key is the polarized light of the cosmic microwave background. Light is a propagating electromagnetic wave. When it consists of waves oscillating in a preferred direction, physicists call it “polarized.” The polarization arises when the light is scattered. Sunlight, for instance, consists of waves with all possible oscillating directions; thus, it is not polarized. The light of a rainbow, meanwhile, is polarized because the sunlight is scattered by water droplets in the atmosphere. Similarly, the light of the cosmic microwave background initially became polarized when scattered by electrons 400,000 years after the Big Bang. As this light traveled through the Universe for 13.8 billion years, the interaction of the cosmic microwave background with dark matter or dark energy could cause the plane of polarization to rotate by an angle β (see figure).


“If dark matter or dark energy interact with the light of the cosmic microwave background in a way that violates parity symmetry, we can find its signature in the polarization data,” points out Yuto Minami, a postdoctoral fellow at IPNS, KEK.

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Vertebrate Genomes Project (VGP) - A mission to generate near error-free and complete genome assemblies of all living vertebrate species

Vertebrate Genomes Project (VGP) - A mission to generate near error-free and complete genome assemblies of all living vertebrate species | Amazing Science |

The VGP Genomes are among the most complete reference genomes for their species and will be stored and publicly available in the genome ark database, a digital open-access library of genomes.The Vertebrate Genomes Project (VGP), a project of the G10K Consortium, aims to generate near error-free reference genome assemblies of ~70,000 extant vertebrate species. The VGP Species List details our Phase 1 Progress and includes a full list of the >70,000 extant, vertebrate species.

These genomes will be used to address fundamental questions in biology and disease, to identify species most genetically at risk for extinction, and to preserve genetic information of life. The motivation for the VGP is based in part on the G10K mission to generate genomes of 10,000 or more vertebrate species and on lessons learned from The Avian Phylogenomics Project.

The VGP will be completed based on taxonomic hierarchy, which is a relative ranking of a group of organisms beginning with the largest classification, domain, to the smallest classification, species: Orders (Phase 1), Families (Phase 2), and Genera (Phase 3) to eventually all species (Phase 4). This strategy will allow us to gain scientific insight at each phase, to continue to integrate emerging technologies, and to complete genomic analyses at increasing levels of phylogenetic scale. Additionally, we expect our approaches and questions at each phase to lead to the development of new algorithms, including algorithms for genome assemblies, alignments, annotations, comparative genomics, etc., which would then be applied to the next phase. This approach will also help us secure the needed funds in stages through grants and other fundraising efforts.

At each phase, species selection is based on a combination of criteria, including those with existing draft genomes in need of improvement, those with specialized traits that inform us about human biology, those in immediate danger of becoming extinct, and those with prominent use in biomedical research. Endangered species are a high priority and critical because our planet is experiencing its 6th mass extinction event, the worst since the die-off of dinosaurs 66 million years ago. This priority is in part due to human influence on pollution, habitat destruction, and climate change. Our planet is at risk of losing 1 in 8 vertebrate species (~8000 in total) to extinction. The VGP aims to map the DNA of these at-risk species to not only preserve blueprints of their genomes but also to help identify genetic variants that might protect these species from total extinction. This knowledge can guide conservation strategies to prevent or at least minimize loss of species resulting from humankind’s impact on the environment.

The VGP intends to use the genomic data that it produces for multiple studies. A list of studies planned for the Phase 1 ordinal VGP include:

1. Genome-scale family tree of vertebrates.
2. Comparative genomics of specialized traits in each vertebrate lineage.
3. Comparative genomics of convergent traits (e.g. vocal learning, flight, loss of limbs, and aquatic / terrestrial adaptations).
4. Developing universal vertebrate gene orthology and nomenclature.
5. Deciphering vertebrate chromosomal genome evolution.
6. Reconstruction of the common ancestor genomes of all vertebrates and of key vertebrate clades (e.g. mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, teleost, bony vertebrates, jawed vertebrates, and tetrapods).
7. Evolution of nucleotides to chromosomes of the human genome.
8. Genetics of why some lineages are more disease resistant than others.
9. Conservation genomics of endangered species sequenced.
10. The genomes of all remaining Kakapo parrots on the planet.
11. Genetic signatures of domestication across vertebrates.
12. Genetics of sex determination and sex chromosome evolution among vertebrates.
13. Brain cell type evolution and homologies using genomics and transcriptomics.
14. 3-Dimensional genome structure across vertebrates.
15. Consequences of the evolutionary battle between transposons and host factors.
16. New algorithms for near complete genome assemblies.
17. New algorithms for reference free multi-way genome alignments.

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Escape from Mars: How water fled the red planet

Escape from Mars: How water fled the red planet | Amazing Science |
Mars once had oceans but is now bone-dry, leaving many to wonder how the water was lost. University of Arizona researchers have discovered a surprisingly large amount of water in the upper atmosphere of Mars, where it is rapidly destroyed, explaining part of this Martian mystery.


In standard models, molecular hydrogen produced from water in the lower atmosphere diffuses into the upper atmosphere where it is dissociated, producing atomic hydrogen, which is lost. Using observations from the Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer on the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft, the scientists were able to demonstrate that water is instead transported directly to the upper atmosphere, then dissociated by ions to produce atomic hydrogen. The water abundance in the upper atmosphere varied seasonally, peaking in southern summer, and surged during dust storms, including the 2018 global dust storm. From these data they calculated that this transport of water dominates the present-day loss of atomic hydrogen to space and influenced the evolution of Mars’ climate.

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About Half of Sun-Like Stars Could Host Rocky, Habitable-Zone Planets

About Half of Sun-Like Stars Could Host Rocky, Habitable-Zone Planets | Amazing Science |
According to new research using data from NASA’s retired planet-hunting mission, the Kepler space telescope, about half the stars similar in temperature to our Sun could have a rocky planet capable of supporting liquid water on its surface.


Since astronomers confirmed the presence of planets beyond our solar system, called exoplanets, humanity has wondered how many could harbor life. Now, we're one step closer to finding an answer. According to new research using data from NASA's retired planet-hunting mission, the Kepler space telescope, about half the stars similar in temperature to our Sun could have a rocky planet capable of supporting liquid water on its surface.


Our galaxy holds at least an estimated 300 million of these potentially habitable worlds, based on even the most conservative interpretation of the results in a new study to be published in The Astronomical Journal. Some of these exoplanets could even be our interstellar neighbors, with at least four potentially within 30 light-years of our Sun and the closest likely to be at most about 20 light-years from us. These are the minimum numbers of such planets based on the most conservative estimate that 7% of Sun-like stars host such worlds. However, at the average expected rate of 50%, there could be many more.


This research helps us understand the potential for these planets to have the elements to support life. This is an essential part of astrobiology, the study of life's origins and future in our universe. The study is authored by NASA scientists who worked on the Kepler mission alongside collaborators from around the world. NASA retired the space telescope in 2018 after it ran out of fuel. Nine years of the telescope's observations revealed that there are billions of planets in our galaxy -- more planets than stars.


"Kepler already told us there were billions of planets, but now we know a good chunk of those planets might be rocky and habitable," said the lead author Steve Bryson, a researcher at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley. "Though this result is far from a final value, and water on a planet's surface is only one of many factors to support life, it's extremely exciting that we calculated these worlds are this common with such high confidence and precision."


For the purposes of calculating this occurrence rate, the team looked at exoplanets between a radius of 0.5 and 1.5 times that of Earth's, narrowing in on planets that are most likely rocky. They also focused on stars similar to our Sun in age and temperature, plus or minus up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit.


That's a wide range of different stars, each with its own particular properties impacting whether the rocky planets in its orbit are capable of supporting liquid water. These complexities are partly why it is so difficult to calculate how many potentially habitable planets are out there, especially when even our most powerful telescopes can just barely detect these small planets. That's why the research team took a new approach


After revealing more than 2,800 confirmed planets outside our solar system, the data collected by the Kepler space telescope continues to yield important new discoveries about our place in the universe. Though Kepler's field of view covered only 0.25% of the sky, the area that would be covered by your hand if you held it up at arm's length towards the sky, its data has allowed scientists to extrapolate what the mission's data means for the rest of the galaxy. That work continues with TESS, NASA's current planet hunting telescope.

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Luminescent wood could light up homes of the future

Luminescent wood could light up homes of the future | Amazing Science |

The right indoor lighting can help set the mood, from a soft romantic glow to bright, stimulating colors.  But some materials used for lighting, such as plastics, are not eco-friendly. Now, researchers reporting in ACS Nano have developed a bio-based, luminescent, water-resistant wood film that could someday be used as cover panels for lamps, displays and laser devices.

Consumer demand for eco-friendly, renewable materials has driven researchers to investigate wood-based thin films for optical applications. However, many materials developed so far have drawbacks, such as poor mechanical properties, uneven lighting, a lack of water resistance or the need for a petroleum-based polymer matrix. Qiliang Fu, Ingo Burgert and colleagues wanted to develop a luminescent wood film that could overcome these limitations.


The researchers treated balsa wood with a solution to remove lignin and about half of the hemicelluloses, leaving behind a porous scaffold. The team then infused the delignified wood with a solution containing quantum dots –– semiconductor nanoparticles that glow in a particular color when struck by ultraviolet (UV) light. After compressing and drying, the researchers applied a hydrophobic coating. The result was a dense, water-resistant wood film with excellent mechanical properties. Under UV light, the quantum dots in the wood emitted and scattered an orange light that spread evenly throughout the film’s surface. The team demonstrated the ability of a luminescent panel to light up the interior of a toy house. Different types of quantum dots could be incorporated into the wood film to create various colors of lighting products, the researchers say.

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